Imagine my surprise when I opened my mailbox recently and saw a thin package over a foot long like a mortar shell. I was even more surprised when I opened the package and saw that there were 12 ounces of Tootsie Rolls in a “candy bank”.
Then I realized it had to do with the history of candy and the First Marine Division. It’s a fairly memorable tale of misfortune that happens to be a Korean War wow story – often referred to as “the forgotten war.”
At Chosin Reservoir, in the winter of 1950, the First Marine Division and other units survived 17 days of temperatures over 30 degrees below zero. Everything froze. The Americans suffered nearly 18,000 casualties: some 11,000 killed in action, wounded or missing; and nearly 8,000 who suffered from frostbite.
The Chinese estimated their losses at over 19,000 killed or missing. However, the United Nations estimated the number to be closer to 30,000, with 20,000 non-combat casualties, many of them frostbite.
Either way, it was a bad time for everyone there. Besides being so cold for so long, the Marines had run out of ammunition and had called in 60mm mortar rounds. The towers’ code name was “Tootsie Rolls”.
When the radio operator received the request, word was that he didn’t have the code sheets to tell him what the “Tootsie Rolls” were. He knew, however, that whatever was asked for was needed quickly. When he called the command for “Tootsie Rolls”, pallets of candy began falling from the sky towards many members of the First Marine Division.
“You can imagine how angry those Marines were when they discovered the Tootsie Rolls,” wrote Chosin Reservoir survivor Jim Brown in the October-November 2020 issue of The Chosin Few news digest. “However, all was not lost.”
The Marines soon discovered that by warming the Tootsie Rolls in their mouths or holding them close to their bodies, the candies thawed and could be eaten. For the next few days the Marines ate Tootsie Rolls because everything else was frozen and they survived.
The 12 oz I received didn’t last long and they were good. It’s a great reminder of how something so innocent, so un-warlike, and so tasty can have such a dramatic effect on something as serious as war and survival.
Not only did the Tootsie Rolls help support the Marines, but they quickly learned that the soft candies could also be used to plug bullet holes in their shelters and help protect against the cold. It’s no surprise that “many troops attribute their very survival to Tootsie Rolls.”
And that’s why Tootsie Roll Industries continues to support The Chosin Few as it does. It is a quid pro quo that has maintained the relationship of these various organizations for over 70 years.
While he enjoys the relationship, The Chosin Few president, retired Marine Colonel Warren Wiedhahn, has something else to consider about the Korean War.
“In my personal opinion, the whole Korean War is not just forgotten,” he said authoritatively, “it is ignored!” Sandwiched between the GREAT war and Vietnam, it is “generally” ignored by the public. (Not ignored by veterans and their families!!!) I am dedicated to the term: “Don’t Forget Again!”
And Tootsie Rolls is always there to help The Chosin Few not be “forgotten” again and spread the word to the public. Wiedhahn said Ellen Gordon, CEO of Tootsie Roll Industries, asked how to recognize members of The Chosin Few, and it was decided that sending candy banks filled with Tootsie Rolls would be a nice gesture.
Wiedhahn also added that she contributed to the Battle of Chosin Few monument at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va., and the new one just opened in July at the National Cemetery’s “Chosin Few” memorial. of Dallas-Fort Worth. .
Families are not forgotten either. The widow of a Chosin Few survivor received the Tootsie Rolls and called to thank Wiedhahn. It was Gordon to thank, he said, not him.
The widow, who is over 90 and lives in a nursing home, told him: ‘The Tootsie Rolls were so special and welcome. I have been to many Chosin Few meetings with my husband, but now he is gone. I am in a wheelchair and can no longer travel. The other ladies here were so envious of me getting the sweets. I shared until I was exhausted.
He passed this story on to Gordon in a note, saying, “It touched my heart, because I’m sure it will be yours.”